I had never wanted to own a chicken. They sort of repulsed me with their beady eyes and sharp peaks. But I acquired some anyway because I was tired of spending half the night , deadly scissors in hand, in search of slugs. The awful ooze when I snipped them in half was getting to me. Stanley, a purple rooster and five hens. lived in the garden, roosted in the tall cedars that guarded by garden. I collected their eggs and found them marvelously delicious. It was my first experience with a farm fresh egg. How had I missed this delicious luxury all my life. I expressed my gratitude by providing my chickens with flax seed and piles of ditaneacious earth to bathe in.
Other than that, I didn’t pay them much mind until one night a raccoon snatched Blanche. Blanche was a small white Silkie who ran around the yard in a strange frantic zig zag. I had named her Blanche because I was into naming my animals as creatures in a Tennesse Williams play. Stanley had a wife, Stella, and a sister-in-law, Blanche.
A friend watching Blanche run in her madhap manner under the Cedar trees, remarked how she reminded him of Phyllis Diller. From then on, Blanche was known as Phyllis until the night the raccoon climbed the tree and snatched her from her roost leaving only a few soft white feathers and a startling blue beak..
I gathered the feathers and the beak and started to cry. My tears surprised me. I felt that I had not protected this beautiful little bird. I built a coup for the chickens and watched in amazement as Stanley rounded them up at dusk, making sure they were safely tucked away for the night.
When Goldie, a beautiful hen with yellow feathers tipped with rich brown, developed a cough, I rushed her to the vet’s. I had read about horrific diseases chickens can get. I hadn’t read that these chickens get these diseases because of the horrid living conditions they are forced into in poultry farms around the world.
To be on the safe side, testing was in order. I brought in Stanley and his brood, all caged in separate dog crates I’d borrowed from several friends. The doctor snatched Goldie from the cage, drew blood from Goldie’s foot and handed her to me. Oh God. I had never held a chicken before. What if she pooped on me, worse, pecked me. I tried to settle her in my lap, my arms around her.
Goldie was making worried sounds, so I tried to comfort her, rocking her a bit, my maternal instincts naturally arising. She was staring at her boney little leg. A huge bubble of blood had escaped from what looked like rough scales. She made another worried sound, lifted her leg as if to show me and turned around staring into my face, clearly letting me know what the doctor had done to her.
I wiped the blood from her foot and continued to soothe her. As I did, she settled deeper into my lap and closed her eyes. I could feel her body relax. The feeling of holding a chicken is actually a lot like holding a baby. As you comfort the small being in your arms, you feel comforted. It has become one of many pleasures.
Happily, there was no horrid infection, the chickens returned to taking care of the garden, eliminating nasty pests and exuding a sense of peace and tranquility that made weeding a special joy. As I sat on my weeding stool, Stella would plunk her soft grey body between my legs, snatching the newly exposed worms with such glee I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I’d throw some to Stanley who became adept at catching them mid flight.
When month’s later, Goldie was attacked by Violet, a chicken who was so jealous of Stanley she tried to kill Goldie who was Stanley’s favorite lady, I became vigilant in protecting her, chasing Violet away. Her only remaining feathers were her wings. Lift those and Goldie looked like a chicken ready for the roasting pans. Her naked flesh had several scratches and blue bruises. I wrapped bandages made of kotex and duck tape around her desperate to protect her. I finally moved her into the house for several weeks to heal. She followed me around the kitchen talking her little head off.
Violet, most wicked of chickens, most curious of chickens seemed restless with no Goldie to harass. One dark night, she escaped the coup, snuck into the barn and sampled rat poison. She had to work hard to get it, it was safely concealed in what had been promised to be an animal proof container. Not a chicken proof one it seems.
We raced her to the emergency clinic in Vancouver where we sat and waited and waited and waited. Every four legged emergency kept being tended to ahead of us. I was beginning to realize that a dog hit by a car or a cat mauled by a raccoon is a more important emergency than a hen whose comb was slowly fading from its bright red vibrancy to a pale gray pink. Apparently a chicken’s life is not as valued as an animal’s. Despite my desperate demands and angry tears, no one tended Violet in time and she died in my arms.
When we brought Violet’s still body back to the farm early in the morning, all the creatures reacted. Stanley made no sound. The chickens stayed in the coup, refusing to leave, refusing to scuttle about the yard in their usual fashion. It was a time for mourning and all knew it. Goldie stood by Stanley and stared at the freshly dug grave. I knew they were totally cognizant of the fact that the grave held their companion. Goldie forgave all and became Stanley’s side kick. Peace returned to the garden.
The more willing I am to enter the world of fowl and share their experiences, the more I learn about them. The more I care for them, the more I care about them.
I now see my chickens for what they are – unique companions, each with her or his own personality. Chickens are not mindless, emotionless creatures. They suffer fear and pain and longing. They enjoy love and companionship.
I don’t eat chicken any more. I advocate for every organization that struggles to protect them from the harsh cruelty of arguably being the most abused creature on the planet, living in discomfort and confinement from the moment they are born to the moment they are killed for food and profit.
There are no laws to protect chickens. No laws to stop the fact that laying hens live in cages so crammed they cannot move, their peaks cut off to prevent them from pecking one another. No laws to stop the fact that 100 million male birds, too damaged to sell, and of no value for egg laying are ground up alive, or put in bags and suffocated.
There is a movement afoot to pass a law to protect chickens. A movement to increase our circle of concern to include all living creatures. I am one of its very loud advocates.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!